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Literally, white; named after its snow-capped peaks. An independent republic since 1944, Lebanon occupies a mountain range that runs almost parallel with the Mediterranean, north of Israel, for about 100 miles, rising at its highest point to 10,000 feet. The country is divided by the Coelesyria, or El Baka Valley into Lebanon on the west and Anti-Lebanon on the east. Lebanon was famous in antiquity for its cedar forests (long since destroyed by reckless cutting), which provided timber for the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. In 1998, its population of about 3.4 million included a Christian (that is, Maronite) majority, as well as Moslems and Druzes.

The Jewish community, concentrated mainly in Beirut, has dwindled over the years. A statute passed in 1952 granted the community a large degree of autonomy in internal affairs. Although Lebanon participated in the Arab invasion of Israel in 1948, Lebanese Jewry has enjoyed better treatment than any other Jewish community in the Arab World. There is nonetheless a complete ban on travel and emigration, and Jews are excluded from army and government positions.

During the Six-Day War, Lebanon did not participate in the fighting. However, two and a half years later, Palestinian Arab guerillas began to infiltrate into Lebanon and use the southern part of the country as a base for raids into Israeli territory. When it became obvious that the Lebanon government was unable to put an end to these attacks, Israel retaliated in the areas from which the guerrillas operated.

In 1982, Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee, designed to secure its southern border from terrorist infiltration from Lebanon, where the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) became, in effect, a state within a state. As a result of the war, the PLO was ousted from Beirut and their military base in Lebanon was destroyed, creating hopes for a unified Lebanon and the possibility of an Israeli-Lebanese peace treaty in 1983. This treaty was abrogated by Lebanon in 1984, owing to internal Moslem and Druze pressure and Syrian opposition. In 1998, both Israeli and Syrian troops were still stationed in Lebanon.

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